103. Playoffs: Game One

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Oil City Hustlers versus Hester Pioneers

It didn't take long for the Pioneers to seize the lead.

Once Henry and Willy hit the field, the Pioneers mounted a comeback, starting with a defensive front that saw Dale delivering a stew of curves and knuckleballs. On the field, Henry looked like an impossible machine, gobbling up balls like a well-oiled Cyclone vacuum cleaner.

Dear Lord Almighty! The Pioneers' bats were on fire too. Henry, Jake, and Big Willy banged out hits every time they stepped up to the plate.

Given the way the game had started, the Hustlers had strutted around like an over-confident bunch. By the seventh inning stretch, the Pioneers were up four to one, and the Hustlers of Oil City had been knocked off their pedestal.

The announcer fired up the fans, and they sang, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." The melody filled the ballpark with an electricity so powerful, you could feel it in your core.

All the Pioneers came out of the dugout and joined in the singing to everyone's delight.

For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,  🎶

At the old ball game.  🎶

The fans erupted with clapping and cheers.  👏👏👏

A few of the players bowed, bringing about a roar of laughs. The noise of the crowd settled to a low chatter as people left their seats for snacks, drinks, smoke breaks, and hurried bathroom runs.

Dale remained outside as the rest of the Pioneers returned to the dugout. He just wanted to take in the moment. He was thrilled that Henry and Willy were back. Judging from the crowd's reaction to their return, the fans couldn't have been any happier. All of the fans – black and white – were excited that Henry and Willy had returned home.

Dale was about to head into the dugout when a commotion caught his attention.

A scene was playing out in the owner's box above.

It was Mr. Heiler from the Steel Mill League board.

Dale had seen the man at previous games, but he'd never seen Mr. Heiler get involved in the Pioneers' affairs. There were two other men with him, looking official in their impeccably tailored suits. Board members, no doubt. The skinny one looked like a French poodle that had lost its chew toy, and the bigger guy looked like a jumbo-sized marshmallow.

Mr. Heiler was busy, giving Frank and Richard Bell an earful. "What are those Negroes doing back on your team?!"

The poodle interjected, "I believe you were informed that we did not want these black fellows to participate in the playoff games."

The marshmallow man folded his arms and jutted an arrogant double-chin.

"And yet there they are!" Mr. Heiler said, waving a tensed hand to the field at Henry and Willy. "Bell, what on earth do you think you're doing?"

Richard and Frank looked at each other, but didn't answer.

"I know which of you two did this too!" Mr. Heiler directed his attention to Frank, stepping into his space and jabbing his finger. "This has your name written all over it! You're the one who wanted those blacks on the team in the first place! I bet you even orchestrated that ridiculous kneeling stunt out there! You need to keep those two off the field!"

Frank shook his head. "There's no reason why Henry and Willy shouldn't be out there. They're a part of this team. If it wasn't for them, the Pioneers never would have gotten this far."

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